Jasmin Jašarević was born and lives in Brčko. He is a general manager of Proni Centre, a youth organisation that started operating in 1998 and that aimed to work on reconciliation among young persons in Bosnia and Herzegovina through youth work, joint projects and promotion of activism. He told me how Proni was established and what activities they engage in.

Jasmin Jašarević:

My career started with rebuilding of houses destroyed during the war, while I was a young kid after the war. That was the only job that was available, so I spent some time working as a bricklayer. The second job that was available was the job of a mine clearance operator, so I worked on mine clearance for two years. I worked throughout Bosnia and Herzegovina, clearing mines from mine fields. And then, some foreigners had the idea about Proni, based on a model that existed in Northern Ireland to reconcile the Catholics and Protestants. Proni actually means ”Project of Northern Ireland”, that is what they called it, and we just kept it when the organisation was registered locally.

There were these men, I attended the seminar, and we had a group of 30 young persons that participated in communication trainings, trainings on the civil society and how to continue from the year 1998. They somehow chose me to be the president of that youth group and later on it turned into this story.

I think that many know about Proni and what Proni does in Bosnia and Herzegovina and beyond. At the beginning, we were working on reconciliation projects back in 1998, 1999, 2000 and 2001, when it was much more difficult to travel. There were also the entity borders, Brčko District actually did not even exist yet, it was established in 2000, and we were working on bringing together young people through some common interests, music, culture, literature, photography, etc. two years prior to that. Young persons knew about some things, although they lived in Brčko and Rahić back then. We were organising mini festivals, were making albums, organising exhibitions, young persons were socialising in a period when it was quite strange for the local community here. And only once the District was established and when the process of return started, when the political situation became more stable, Proni took off back then, because we got the support of the local government here and politics in general, which was going in the same direction that we wanted to go to – to initiate the process of reconciliation, understanding and coexistence for everyone.

After the first step was made, reconciliation, at least here in Brčko District, was done really well – common schools, common hospitals, common police, administration, everything was quite mixed, equal opportunities for everyone… We started focusing on some other things, human rights, youth mobility, informal education and some topics that were important and relevant back then in Europe and world and we are still trying to follow trends, resolve problems and meet the needs of young people, both in the local community and regarding some global trends.

Over the past years, we have been working on a project called Erasmus+. We are the contact point of the EU in Bosnia and Herzegovina. This programme makes it possible to volunteer, to do a youth exchange, to build the capacities of organisations, and our task here in Bosnia and Herzegovina is to promote that programme, to inform young people about the possibility to volunteer, participate in exchanges and projects, so that we organise trainings, open doors days for the programme and that is one of our main activities.

The second thing is a continuity in the work here in Brčko, where we have a network that we built together with local communities and the Government of Brčko District. It is a network of youth clubs, that is what we call it. 26 youth clubs that actually operate based on youth work principles applied in England and Sweden, because we have taken over some youth work models from international organisations, ”Proni International”. We have 52 youth workers at these clubs and these young people gather other young people in their local communities, mostly rural areas and suburbs, since we are trying to ensure the same opportunities for young people and enable them to be active, to implement some of their ideas, to obtain information primarily through the network of clubs. That is thus one of the activities that we have been doing over the past 10 years. The network exists since 2007.

What is the trend, in which direction is the work of Proni going?

We are still trying to promote youth mobility through the programme Erasmus+, continuing activities related to informal education and support and capacity building of other youth organisations. We support the Government of Brčko District and other institutions. The last thing we did were activities related to the adoption of a law on volunteering in Brčko District; we are working on legal and strategic solutions such as youth policies and laws. We are also active in Brčko, trying to create a youth council of Brčko District together with all other youth organisations. We also have some plans to do a project based on the international cooperation in order for all young persons to have a single representative at some European and international organisations from Bosnia and Herzegovina.

And the last thing, something that we have been working on over the past 2-3 years is that we are trying to work on the prevention and fight against youth radicalism and extremism. We somehow had the support from Facebook through some social media campaign, and now we are supported by the US Embassy to Bosnia and Herzegovina to do a pilot programme and try to train 30 young persons from Bosnia and Herzegovina, in order for them to recognise signs and symptoms of radicalisation that might even lead to violence or inappropriate behaviour. We are trying to work with them by using social media, but also face-to-face trainings at some centres and places where youth gather.

We are also members of networks and structures that might not be directly focusing on youth, but by engaging ourselves, we are trying to include the perspective that young persons are one of the most important segments of every society. In this country, young persons are frequently on the margins, which may best be seen based on the budgets allocated to youth issues. If we claim that youth are important, they should be supported.

We see that a large problem now is youth unemployment or employability and we will have to deal with this. Even when there are employment opportunities, young persons lack the abilities, competences and skills or work ethics and habits to work from 9 to 5. We will thus try to do some projects in this field, to be a bit more creative and find a way for young people to have an income. And to try and fight together against young people leaving and emigrating from Bosnia and Herzegovina.